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February 01, 2011

The Flight of the Red Balloon (2007): Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝贤)’s Long Take and D.W. Winnicott’s Clinic

With Catherine Liu, UC Irvine

February 11, 3:30-5:00
SAC Conference Room
6330 North Quad
105 South State Street, Ann Arbor
Sponsored by U-M Department of Screen Arts & Cultures

This paper is a discussion of Hou Hsiao-hsien's long take analyzed as a component of a theory of cinematic realism. I want take up a close reading of Hou’s 2007 film, Flight of the Red Balloon: the first in a series of films commissioned by the Musée d’Orsay on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, Flight of the Red Balloon (2007) expands Hou’s “distinctive aesthetic project” to include Paris and the travails of a modern mother as artist trying to survive in the contemporary metropolis. In the paper, I will try to draw out parallels between Hou's long take and D. W. Winnicott's theories of "play" and "holding." I will, in particular look at temporality, regression and representations of childhood, fantasy and intersubjectivity.

When Hou Hsiao-hsien first attracted international attention his aesthetic ambitions were overshadowed by an emphasis on his commitment to Taiwanese history and the particular issues of cultural memory in its geopolitics. As early as 1996, Nick Browne tried in the pages of Asian Cinema Journal, to recalibrate the critical reception of Hou’s film by engaging in a close reading of Hou’s 1993 film The Puppetmaster.[1] According to Browne, academic discussions of Hou’s work, had tended to obscure the “distinctive features of [Hou’s] aesthetic project by seeming to bring the work closer, and in some cases even to subordinate it, to theoretical discussions of ‘Third Cinema’ and contemporary critiques of colonialism.”[2] Indeed Taiwanese history would seem to lend itself to such discussions of post-colonialism since the island lived under occupying forces, from the Japanese to the Kuomintang for most the 20th century. Browne’s analysis of Hou’s The Puppetmaster presents a masterful demonstration that Hou’s cinema of place offers a particular and powerful intervention in the politics and aesthetics of realism. I want to take Browne’s arguments further and show that Hou is working so in the name of a cinematically forged form of penetrating psychological and even psychoanalytic realism particular to the conditions of modern life.[3]

[1]Xi meng reng shen, (1993), title also translated into English as In the Hands of a Puppetmaster.”
[2]Nick Browne, “Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Puppet Master: The Poetics of Landscape,” in Island on the Edge: Taiwan New Cinema and After. Edited by Chris Berry and Feii Lu (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2005), pp. 79-88: 79.
[3]André Bazin. What is Cinema? Vol. 1.

Catherine Liu is Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies and Visual Studies. She has just completed a manuscript called "The American Idyll: Anti-Elitism as Cultural Critique." She is interested in Cold War culture and science fiction, the charisma of the ordinary and the historiography of cultural theory and its production and reception. She has published on psychoanalytic theory and cultural theory: she is also the author of a novel, Oriental Girls Desire Romance (1997) as well as a scholarly monograph, Taking Notes for the Automaton (2000).

Posted by zzhu at February 1, 2011 04:46 PM